The Things They Carried

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Lieutenant Jimmy Cross Character Analysis

The Lieutenant of the Alpha Company. He never wanted to go to war, nor did he want to have to lead men. Instead he's preoccupied with how much he's in love with a girl named Martha from home. This infatuation lasts long after the war, though they never get together.

Lieutenant Jimmy Cross Quotes in The Things They Carried

The The Things They Carried quotes below are all either spoken by Lieutenant Jimmy Cross or refer to Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Mortality and Death Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Houghton Mifflin edition of The Things They Carried published in 1990.
The Things They Carried Quotes

This was not Mount Sebastian, it was another world, where there were no pretty poems or midterm exams, a place where men died because of carelessness and gross stupidity. Kiowa was right. Boom-down, and you were dead. Never partly dead.

Related Characters: Tim O'Brien (speaker), Kiowa, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross
Page Number: 22-23
Explanation and Analysis:

The rules of life have changed for Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. In his life before the war, big events centered around things like pretty poems and midterm exams. His social obligations were tied to school, family, or finding love. In war, however, the big event is life itself and the constant threat of it being taken away in an instant. In war, the smallest action can get you killed. As O'Brien emphasizes several times, this is a total result: no one gets sort of killed, you are either alive or you aren't. These were not the stakes for Cross back in America where, at worst, he ran the risk of being heartbroken by Martha—there a thoughtless movement could not have absolutely final consequences. In Vietnam, though, every little thing he does not only determines whether he stays alive, but whether his men stay alive. This burden dwarfs the memory (and even the morality) of the old world Cross used to inhabit in Mount Sebastian. His reality is different now, and there is no turning back. 

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Love Quotes

For a few moments he considered asking her to his room, but instead he laughed and told her how back in college he'd almost done something very brave. It was after seeing Bonnie and Clyde, he said, and on this same spot he'd almost picked her up and carried her to his room and tied her to the bed and put his hand on her knee and just held it there all night long. It came close, he told her—he'd almost done it. Martha shut her eyes. She crossed her arms at her chest, as if suddenly cold, rocking slightly, then after a time she looked at him and said she was glad he hadn't tried it. She didn't understand how men could do those things. What things? he asked, and Martha said, The things men do. Then he nodded. It began to form. Oh, he said, those things.

Related Characters: Tim O'Brien (speaker), Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, Martha
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

Lieutenant Cross is visiting with Tim O'Brien many years after the war has ended and they have both returned home. He is telling O'Brien about how since he returned from the war, he saw his old flame Martha again at their class reunion. He maintains that he still loves her, and he discloses that when they saw each other again, he confessed to her that the night he walked her to the same place they were standing near her dorm at the reunion he wanted to take her upstairs, tie her to the bed, "and put his hand on her knee and just [hold] it there all night long." This harkens back to the title story in The Things They Carried where Lieutenant Cross can't stop thinking about touching Martha's knee while they both watch "Bonnie and Clyde" (page 4). 

When Cross tells Martha about wanting to touch her knee all those years ago, she does not react well. She cowers a little, crosses her arms, and appears cold. She tells him that she is glad he did not do that, and can't "understand how men could do those things." She leaves this in the abstract, even when Cross asks her to explain. "The things men do." Yet, he does not push her on the question because the answer makes sense in a way: "[the answer] began to form." Cross learned in the war, as O'Brien did, that the whole truth, the whole answer, is never available. He has come to accept the discomfort of uncertainty for what is true, and on top of that he has witnessed the horrors of war, the horrors of what men to do each other. Martha knows this too after she spent years as a combat nurse on mission trips throughout the world. She is not blind to the world he saw in Vietnam. In their world, men go off to fight one another, men start these wars. What men do, then, is inexplicable to her, and it is inexplicable to Cross as well. They are both caught in this double bind without answers to the big "why" of war and killing and lost love, but she can say she is glad he did not tie her up and touch her knee all night. That is something she can understand and react to, however strange it may be. 

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Lieutenant Jimmy Cross Character Timeline in The Things They Carried

The timeline below shows where the character Lieutenant Jimmy Cross appears in The Things They Carried. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Things They Carried
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First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross of Alpha Company is carrying letters from a girl named Martha that he loves from... (full context)
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Lieutenant Jimmy Cross walks with pictures of Martha all over Vietnam. He has two pictures of her: one... (full context)
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The things they carry depend on their rank and role. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is a lieutenant and so he carries a different kind of gun and the responsibility... (full context)
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...ground. The men carry him to a chopper and then smoke his dope. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross blames himself for Ted Lavender's death because he loves Martha so much that he's been... (full context)
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In the first week of April, just before Ted Lavender died, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross got a pebble as a good luck charm from Martha. She said in her letter... (full context)
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...a dangerous job. Ted Lavender takes a tranquilizer and goes off to pee. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross checks the tunnel when he gets concerned about Lee Strunk, but he can only think... (full context)
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The things they carry are determined by superstition: Lieutenant Jimmy Cross' pebble, Dave Jensen's rabbit foot, Norman Bowker carries a dead man's thumb that was a... (full context)
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After Ted Lavender dies and is taken away in the chopper, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross leads his men into Than Khe where they burn everything down and shoot every living... (full context)
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...night Kiowa talks about what it was like to see Ted Lavender die. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross walks away and begins digging a foxhole. He sits at the bottom of his foxhole... (full context)
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...of Ted Lavender's death, the short distance between life and death. Kiowa says Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is commendable for caring so much about Ted Lavender and his men. Kiowa goes to... (full context)
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The morning after Ted Lavender dies, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross burns Martha's letters in his foxhole. Then he burns the two photographs. He decides he... (full context)
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Lieutenant Jimmy Cross feels determined to excel as a Lieutenant now and protect his men. He decides he... (full context)
Love
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Many years after the end of the war, Jimmy Cross visits Tim O'Brien at O'Brien's house in Massachusetts. They reminisce, drinking coffee and looking at... (full context)
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Eventually, O'Brien feels like the mood has lightened enough for him to ask about Martha. Cross stands up and returns with a picture of Martha playing volleyball. Cross asks if O'Brien... (full context)
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At the reunion, Cross learned that Martha had become a Lutheran missionary and a nurse who had done service... (full context)
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Cross tells Martha that he loves her, but she keeps walking and doesn't answer. He walks... (full context)
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Cross tells Tim O'Brien that he still loves Martha. O'Brien tries to keep the conversation away... (full context)
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Cross thinks it over for a moment, then agrees to let O'Brien write the story, saying... (full context)
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Cross then makes O'Brien promise not to mention anything about something, but O'Brien cuts him off,... (full context)
Spin
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...the Batangan Peninsula for five days, and he led all of them to safety. Jimmy Cross gave the poppa-san a hug while Mitchell Sanders and Lee Strunk gave him boxes of... (full context)
On the Rainy River
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...people he knew and would know in the future, like his family, Linda, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, his wife, his unborn daughter, his two sons, and the young man he killed outside... (full context)
Church
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...the next week or so. On the second day the elder monk gave Lieutenant Jimmy Cross a cane chair and put it near the altar area, then bowed and gestured for... (full context)
Speaking of Courage
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...the shit field, where they were warned by village women to stay away. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross had to fire his pistol in the air to make the mama-sans go away. The... (full context)
In the Field
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Jimmy Cross yells at a young soldier to close up rank. The young soldier is separated from... (full context)
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When Jimmy Cross looks at the river he knows he made a mistake setting up his men there.... (full context)
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...New Testament. Sanders says Kiowa must be close. Bowker says they should tell Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, but Sanders refuses, claiming it's Cross' fault Kiowa is dead for stationing them there. Bowker... (full context)
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Jimmy Cross is fifty meters away from the three men. He's finished composing the letter to Kiowa's... (full context)
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Jimmy Cross never wanted to be a leader. He had signed up for the Reserve Officer Training... (full context)
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Jimmy Cross recalls two old women from the nearby village who had come out to warn him... (full context)
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Jimmy Cross again notices the young soldier and approaches him. The young soldier was trying not to... (full context)
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The young soldier seems panicked and doesn't look up when Jimmy Cross gets to him. The young soldier keeps saying, "Right here…Got to be right here." Cross... (full context)
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...and begin to dig around Kiowa. Everyone else comes over to watch except for Jimmy Cross and the young soldier. (full context)
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Jimmy Cross is near the center of the field almost completely covered in the muck. He keeps... (full context)
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Jimmy Cross knew that "when a man died, there had to be blame." Blame could be put... (full context)
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Jimmy Cross keeps floating in the water of the river for a long time. From the east... (full context)
Night Life
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...Different soldiers coped in different ways: Dave Jensen took vitamins high in carotene, Lt. Jimmy Cross took NoDoz, Henry Dobbins and Norman Bowker attached a safety wire between their two belts. (full context)
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...chopper came to take Kiley away, there was some time to say goodbye. Lt. Jimmy Cross vouched that the shooting had been an accident. Henry Dobbins and Azar gave Kiley comic... (full context)
The Lives of the Dead
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...starts with a nameless body. In 1969 the platoon came under fire and Lieutenant Jimmy Cross radioed in an air strike, and the platoon watched the village burn to the ground.... (full context)